Western Bhutan

Western Bhutan

The western circuit contains the six western Districts in the nation that incorporates Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Wangdue Phodrang, Punakha and Gasa. What makes this circuit exceptional is that the Tourism Council of Bhutan has classified better approaches for investigating the current awesome sights.

Places to visit in Western Bhutan

Chhukha Valley (2200m/7220ft)

Kharbandi Gompa

kharbandi-gompa This beautiful monastery in Phuentsholing is situated in a garden of tropical plants and flowers at an altitude of 400m /1,300ft above the town, was founded in 1967 by the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron. The monastery contains paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha and statues of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. From the monastery garden there is a splendid view of Phuentsholing and the plains of West Bengal with their tea gardens beyond.

Zangtho Pelri

zangtho-pelri This small temple built in the center of Phuentsholing town represents the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. At ground level there are statues of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche and paintings depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The floor above contains wall paintings of the eight Bodhisattvas and statues of Avalokiteshvara and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. On the top floor, the main statue is of Amitabha.

Haa Valley (2,670m/8,811ft)

Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple)

lhakhang-karpo-white-temple Built by the Tibetan saint and king, Songtsen Gampo, Lhakhang Karpo with its sparkling white wall is situated at the foothills of the three towering mountains venerated as Rigsum Gonpo (Jampelyang:Manjushri, Chana Dorji: Vajrapani, Chenrizi: Avaloketesvara) it is located in the tiny village of Dumchoe. The temple stands as the guardian sentinels keeping watch at the south entrance of the Haa valley. According to a legend, a black and a white pigeon were released to select sites to build the temples. The white pigeon landed on the foothills of the mountain Chenrizi (Avaloketesvara), one of the towering Rigsum. Lhakhang Karpo was thus built on the foothills of the mountain Chenrizi (Avaloketesvara).

Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple)

Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple) According to a legend, King Songtsen Gampo released a black and a white pigeon to select sites to build the temples. The white pigeon landed on the foothills of the mountain Chenrizi (Avaloketesvara) of the towering Rigsum. The black pigeon landed on a little north of the white pigeon, indicating the pre ordained site of the present day Lhakhang Nagpo.The temple was named Nagpo (black) as it was built on the site where the black pigeon landed.

Paro Valley (2,200m/7,218ft)

Drukgyel Dzong

drukgyel-dzong This dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts, was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646, to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight. On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt. Jomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.

Rinpung Dzong

Rinpung Dzong Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Rinpung Dzong, the “fortress of the heap of jewels” stands on a hill above Paro Town. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls. The valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.

Ta Dzong

ta-dzong On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong. (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a dzong is always called a “Ta dzong”). On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape. In 1968 Paro’s Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang This lhakhang, built in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest and most sacred shrines in Bhutan (the other being Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). Kyichu Lhakhang is composed of twin temples. The first temple was built by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. In 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one, in same style.

Druk Choeding

Druk Choeding This temple in Paro town was built in 1525 by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Raling in Tibet, and an ancestor of the Shabdrung, Ngawang Namgyal.

Dungtse Lhakhang

Dungtse Lhakhang The uniqueness of this temple lies in the fact that it is in the form of a chorten, one of the very few that exists in Bhutan. The lhakhang was built in 1421 by the famous Tibetan lama, Thongten Gyelpo (1385-1465) who was also known as Changzampa or the builder of iron bridges. It is believed that a demoness was terrorizing the Paro valley and the very hill that the temple is built on turned out to be the demoness’s head. So he built a chorten shaped temple over the demoness’s head or the hills to overpower her, as chortens most of the time play the part of a nail that immobilizes a demon.


Farmhouses The natural beauty of Paro valley is enhanced by picturesque farmhouses dotted about the fields and on the hillsides. The two to three-storied Bhutanese farmhouses are handsome in appearance, with colorfully decorated outer walls and lintels, and are traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow the same architectural style. A visit to a farmhouse gives an interesting glimpse into the lifestyle of a farming family.

Kila Gompa

Kila Gompa This is the serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their lives to spiritual fulfillment. In this gompa, nestled in a craggy patch of rock on the mountainside below Chele-la pass, they spend their days in religious studies, prayer and meditation. Kila Gompa is about an hour’s walk from Chele-la, down a path through pine forest. Bhutan has seven nunneries, of which Kila Gompa and Buchung Karma Nunnery in Punakha are the oldest. It was initially established in the early 9th century by Dupthob Chhoeje Norbu and Dupthob Temba as a meditation site. After being destroyed by fire, the lhakhang was reconstructed by the 25th Je Khenpo, Sherab Gyaltshen. In 1986, Kila Gompa was officially established by the Government as a nunnery. This monastery is historically significant as a sacred meditation site for renowned saints including Dupthob Chilkarwa, of the Drukpa Kagyupa school.

Taktsang Monastery

Taktsang Monastery “Tiger’s Nest” monastery, most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, is spectacularly located on the side of a cliff 900m above the valley floor. It is said that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan to this place and meditated in a cave here for 3 months, hence its name, “Tiger’s Nest”. There have been shrines at this sacred place for many centuries. The principal lhakhang of the present monastic complex dates from 1692. The main structure was severely damaged by fire in 1998, but after many years of painstaking restoration work, the complex has now been fully restored to its former glory. Taktsang is a place of pilgrimage which Bhutanese try to visit at least once in a lifetime. An excursion to Taktsang involves a steep climb up through pine forest and takes about five hours round trip. Though the climb up through the pine forest is steep, the journey is most worthwhile on account of the superb views en route and especially from the cafeteria viewpoint itself.

Punakha Valley (1,300m/4,265ft)

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch. The dzong is open for visitors during the Punakha festival (early spring) and in the summer months, after the monk body has returned to Thimphu.

Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten

Khamsum-Yulley-Namgyal-Chorten This three storey chorten was built by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Tsering Yangdon for the protection of the country. It has an impressive view of Punakha dzong especially when driving back to Punakha. The deities represented here belong to a teaching cycle of Dudjom Rinpoche, a great Nyingmapa master (1904-87). The functions of the deities are to subjugate enemies and harmful influences and also to spread peace and harmony. The chorten is a half hour walk from the main road.


Limbukha Drive to Punakha Dzong, which can be visited from April to November while the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the central monk body are at their summer quarters in Thimphu. Stroll across the narrow suspension bridge (about 200m long) above the river and enjoy fresh breezes and a splendid view of this massive dzong. Follow the farmhouses gradually climbing towards the Dompala hills. Enjoy superb views of Punakha Dzong and surrounding villages as you climb upwards through the pine forests, to Limbukha, a journey of about two and a half hours. Limbukha farmers grow Bhutan’s famous red rice, which is well known for its health-giving properties. This particular rice needs clean mountain spring water so that the taste is good and nutritional value maintained. Limbukha is also known for its love of peace and tranquility. According to legend, during medieval wars the “Limpus” (people of Limbukha) always volunteered their services as negotiators for peace. Their traditional role is honored on the last day of Punakha’s annual religious festival, when Limbukha men taking part in the concluding procession out from the dzong carry flags of peace, rather than weapons of war.

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang This lhakhang, built in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest and most sacred shrines in Bhutan (the other being Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang). Kyichu Lhakhang is composed of twin temples. The first temple was built by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. In 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one, in same style.


Talo The picturesque village of Talo, scattered along a ridge above the Punakha valley at an altitude of around 2,800m, is known amongst Punakha villages for its neat and clean appearance. Talo Sangnacholing is built on a small plateau at the top of the village, and from there one has a majestic view of the entire valley and surrounding villages, and the high hills beyond Wangduephodrang which mark the gateway to central Bhutan. The women here are particularly known for their beauty. Talo is about an hour’s drive from Punakha.

Thimphu Valley (2,400m/7,875ft)

National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial Chorten The building of this chorten was originally the idea of Bhutan’s third king, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”), who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. After His Majesty’s untimely death in 1972, the Royal Family and Cabinet resolved to fulfill his wishes and erect a memorial that would perpetuate his memory and also serve as a monument to peace. The National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974. The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.


Tashichho Dzong The “fortress of the glorious religion” was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu (held in autumn) and while the monk body is resident in its winter quarters at Punakha Dzong.

Semtokha Dzong

simtokha-dzongThis dzong, built in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, stands on a low ridge 8 km. down the valley from Thimphu. The Institute for Language and Cultural Studies is located here. The most noteworthy artistic feature of this dzong is the series of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.

National Library

National LibraryThe National Library was established in the late 1960s primarily to conserve the literary treasures which form a significant part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. It now houses an extensive collection of Buddhist literature mostly in block-printed format, with some works several hundred years old. This collection, known as the Choekey Collection, mainly comprises Buddhist literature written in Choekey, the religious script of Northern Buddhism, but also includes works written in Tibetan and in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language. There is also a small Foreign Books Collection, stock of which mainly comprises works written in English, with subject interest on Buddhist studies, Bhutan, the Himalayan region and neighboring countries.

Institute for Zorig Chusum

Institute for Zorig Chusum Commonly known as the Painting School, the Institute offers a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. On a visit one can see students learning the various skills taught at the school.

National Institute of Traditional Medicine

National-Institute-of-Traditional-Medicine In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich herbal medicines made up from medicinal plants abundant in the kingdom are prepared and dispensed here. The Institute is also a training school for traditional medicine practitioners.The complex is closed to visitors due to considerations of hygiene, but one can still walk around and view it from the outside.

Folk Heritage and National Textile Museums

Folk-Heritage-and-National-Textile-MuseumsThese museums, both of which opened in 2001, provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life.

Handicrafts shops

Handicrafts-shopsA wide assortment of colorful, hand woven textiles and other craft products is available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller crafts shops around the town.

Weekend Market

Weekend MarketMost of the Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the river. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy souvenirs.

Tango Gompa

Tango Gompa This monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in the 12th century. The present building was erected in the 15th century by the “Divine Madman”, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. In 1616 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tango and meditated in a cave near the monastery. The picturesque three-storied tower and several surrounding buildings were built in the 18th century by the eighth temporal ruler of Bhutan, Druk Rabgye. The hike up the trail to Tango Gompa takes about an hour.

Cheri Gompa

Cheri Gompa This monastery was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1620. A silver chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of the Shabdrung’s father. This trek trail starts by crossing a lovely bridge that spans the Thimphu River, and then climbs steeply to the monastery. The journey takes about an hour.

Phajoding Monastery

Phajoding Monastery Tphe complex is situated high on the hills overlooking Thimphu valley. It was founded by Phajo Drugom Shigpo, who introduced the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism in Bhutan in the 13th century. Phajoding was in former times one of the richest monasteries in the country. It is a wonderful hike of about 4 hours from Thimphu to the monastery.

Wangduephodrang (1,300m/4,265ft)

Wangduephodrang Dzong

Wangduephodrang Dzong Stretched along the hilltop above the confluence of the Punakha Chu and Tang Chu rivers, the imposing Wangduephodrang Dzong is the town’s most visible feature. The dzong is open for visitors during Wangduephodrang Tsechu, celebrated in autumn.

Gangtey Gompa / Phobjikha (3,000m/9,845ft)

Gangtey Gompa In the mountains east of Wangduephodrang lies the beautiful Phobjikha valley, on the slopes of which is situated the great monastery of Gangtey, established in the 17th century. The village of Phobjikha lies a few km. down from the monastery, on the valley floor. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of black-necked cranes, which migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate.